Here’s some homework: find a superlative that hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success this season.
Go ahead, we’ll wait…
The class of the NHL was dishing out harsh lessons once again on Monday night, putting on a clinic against the Columbus Blue Jackets — a good hockey team, by all accounts — who were completely muzzled by the NHL’s best team in a 5-1 loss on NBCSN.
No team sucks the soul out of an opponent quite like the Lightning. No goalie steals their will away like Andrei Vasilevskiy. No one demoralizes defenses like Nikita Kucherov.
Is it even in question anymore of who the Vezina will be handed to in June, or the Hart at this point, too?
In Kucherov’s case, you might as well give the Art Ross now, as well. He entered the game with 94 points in 59 games and exited with 99 in 60 after an incredible five-point night.
‘Kuch’ scored twice in the first period, both silky smooth goals, set up Steven Stamkos on the power play in the second period, and then provided both primary assists on Brayden Point‘s 34-second brace in to begin in third.
Vasilevskiy can barely be scored on these days after he made 39 saves in Tampa’s sixth straight win.
The 24-year-old ‘tender came within 1:45 of his third straight shutout. He showed no love for the Dallas Stars in a 32-save blanking on Valentine’s Day last Thursday and then put up a 20-save performance against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
The Russian once again looked calm and clinical in Monday’s win, much like he’s done all season.
The Blue Jackets came into the game on fire, winning five of their past six to move into third in the Metropolitan Division (tied with Pittsburgh). The Blue Jackets were 0-for-4 on the power play, including a dismal four-minute stretch in the third after Kucherov clipped Seth Jones in the face with a high stick.
Both teams play again on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, while winning isn’t a concern after Tampa took it’s 45th ‘W’ of the season on Monday, what will be of some concern heading forward for the Lightning is the status of Victor Hedman, who didn’t emerge for the second period and was ruled out by the team with a lower-body injury.
Jon Cooper told NBC’s Pierre McGuire during the telecast that he didn’t think Hedman’s knock was a serious one. Time will tell on that, however.
Speaking of McGuire… he came within inches of getting drilled by an errant puck during the game. What an incredible angle.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck